Byline: By James C. Dillard
News Category: Inmate Reentry Programs
It has often been said that the only constant in life is change. And while it may be true that some changes are not controllable, there are some that are.
The inmates participating in the Thinking for a Change program at CCA Red Rock Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz., are discovering that there are many changes they can make in their lives to help prepare themselves for a successful reentry into society.
The Thinking for a Change program encompasses 22 lessons that cover important life skills such as active listening, giving feedback, asking questions, responding to anger and problem solving.
Tina McNamer is a case manager at Red Rock who works with inmates in the Thinking for a Change program. Since starting with the program in 2014, McNamer has seen the impactful results of the curriculum. Many of the class participants believe criminal behavior is just a normal part of life. McNamer hopes to change that perspective.
“I think exploring their thoughts and learning how their thoughts can lead to destructive behavior is one of the greatest benefits of the program,” McNamer said. “Some of them have grown up with criminal thinking. Recognizing their destructive thoughts and learning to replace them with new thinking reduces the risk of hurtful/criminal behavior.”
Class participants are also assigned work to complete outside of the classroom called “Thinking Reports.”
“The inmates identify their feelings, thoughts and beliefs through the Thinking Reports,” McNamer said. “We discuss the reports at the beginning of each class; identifying negative behavior brought on by negative thinking. After we identify the problematic thinking, we help them replace the negative thoughts with positive.”
Jamie Westmoreland, a case manager, also participates as an instructor in the Thinking for a Change program. He has been involved in some form of teaching or mentoring for more than 13 years.
“I like helping people in general, and the program gives me an opportunity to do that while working in the prison,” Westmoreland said. “I believe that when an inmate learns skills or trades while incarcerated, they are most certainly less inclined to return to prison.”
During the Stop and Think portion of the program, inmates learn how to manage their emotions through three steps before responding in a situation: be quiet, calm down and find some space to think. According to McNamer, this simple process helps individuals remain in control of the situation, rather than reacting emotionally to it.
McNamer recalled one student who went through the program who had a very troubled past. During the program, he increasingly applied what he learned to improving himself. He also encouraged his fellow inmates and became a positive influence on them.
“He completed the class the day before his release in May 2015,” McNamer said. “Today, he remains clean and sober and now works in a group home for addicts using the skills he learned in the Thinking for a Change program to further his success and help others.”
Maria Moss-Appleton, also a case manager, works with McNamer and Westmoreland in the program as an instructor. She said that it’s important for the inmates to focus on character building and decision making. A lot of this is accomplished through group sessions.
“I enjoy the group interactions, and it is rewarding when they apply the skills learned to better themselves and others,” Moss-Appleton said. “The payoff is the transition that I see over the course of the program through their participation.”
McNamer said she encourages the students to focus on their self-worth.
“I ask the students to begin their day by saying to themselves ‘I am somebody,’ ‘I am worth it,’ and ‘I can make a difference,’” she said. “We have to get them to see themselves more positively. That’s how we’ll help them think for a positive change in their lives.”
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